You hate it when you lose your cool with your kid. Or when you say things that, in hindsight, you wish you hadn’t said.
They make a mistake—leave a toy at the top of the stairs, forget their jacket at school, or leave their dirty dishes on the coffee table, and before you even have a chance to think, ugly words are coming out of your mouth:
What were you thinking?
That was a bone-head move.
Maybe you should be more like your sister/brother. They listen!
Why are you wearing that dirty shirt? Do you like looking sloppy?
You lost another jacket? You’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on.
You want to be more patient and calm around your kids. You don’t like the person you become when you get frustrated with them: rude, mean, or hypercritical.
You’re just not sure how to keep the house from falling into chaos without being stern, and you don’t know how to help guide them without pointing out what they did “wrong.”
Is there a better way?
But first, let’s examine more closely what NOT to do.
Imagine that your 8-year-old child ran into the living room, where you were sitting, to proudly announce to you that they cleaned their room. When you go to look, you see the bed is unmade and there’s still a stack of dirty dishes in the corner.
Your teenager just came home two hours past his curfew, and he smells like alcohol.
Your 2nd grader left their Matchbox car on the top step, you didn’t see it, you stepped on it, and almost fell down the stairs.
As a parent, you have several choices of how to respond in these situations in order to let your child know how you feel about the situation. Which of these are you likely to do, if any:
You tell your child it’s their fault because they didn’t prepare, weren’t thinking, or were careless with their decisions.
You call them “lazy” or “stupid” or worse.
You threaten them with being grounded, losing privileges, or having their toys taken away.
You yell that that need to do (or stop doing) something “or else,” and if they ask why, you answer, “Because I said so.”
You let your child know that if he or she doesn’t shape up, they’re not going to get into a good school, they won’t be liked, or they’ll end up a loser.
You compare your child to their sibling or other peers in order to shame them into doing better.
You might say something like, “You promised me you would do better, and now I’m disappointed/sad/upset.”
If you see yourself in any of the above 7 possible responses, then you’ve probably been critical with your child at least some of the time, and you probably haven’t felt very good about it, either.
Part of the reason you may not have felt good about it is that you may have seen your child walking away from the interaction appearing highly distressed and unhappy—maybe even crying.
It’s difficult to see your child in this state.
The reason they’re distressed is because these 7 types of critical responses lead your child to conclude certain negative internal beliefs about themselves. Beliefs such as “I’m not capable” or “I’m stupid.”
They form these beliefs because children, especially very young children, always ask why. If you’re angry at them, or disappointed in them, they conclude, “There must be something wrong with me.”
You love your child and you want them to do well and be happy, but maybe you don’t know how else to approach parenting challenges without resorting to yelling, criticizing, lecturing, or guilt-trips. Maybe it’s how you were brought up. Maybe you think it’s the only thing that works.
Or it doesn’t work, but you do it anyway.
So, if you don’t like being critical, what else can you do?
You’ll be relieved to know there are at least 3 different ways you can help discipline or guide your child without resorting to criticism.
Before your child makes another poor choice or goes against the household rules, you may consider these three positive belief-building responses to help guide your child in the future:
In the example where the child proudly displayed his less-than-perfectly-cleaned room, it would have been helpful to state your expectations clearly and up front.
“Sweetheart, I so appreciate that you cleaned your room. Here are some things you might not have realized make a room clean. All toys are put away, your bed is made, all the dirty dishes are put in the kitchen sink, and your clothes are in the hamper, not on the floor.”
Children can’t read our minds and unless they know what the household rules or expectations are, they will do their best to guess. Sometimes their guess doesn’t match our expectations, so it’s up to us as parents to be clear up front.
Instead of telling your child they were careless or that you could have gotten killed by stepping on their toy that was on the stairs, you can simply offer information:
“Toys at the top of the staircase are dangerous. Someone can get hurt.”
This way, you avoid guilt-tripping or saying things that lead them to conclude that they are stupid or careless. They will register the information and hopefully make choices accordingly, without forming negative self-beliefs about themselves.
It’s much more difficult to criticize if you use “I” statements instead of “you” statements, especially if you combine the “I” statement with information (see #2). For example, compare these two declarations:
You’re getting crumbs everywhere! Why aren’t you using a plate?
Crumbs on the table, they attract ants.
It’s much less likely that your child will conclude that they’re a slob, can’t do anything right, or that they’re stupid (in other words, less likely to form negative self-beliefs), if you approach a situation using “I” statements with information.
Instead, you’ll be giving them an opportunity to make choices based on the information and direction you provide, without communicating that they’re somehow “bad.”
This enables your child to do better while feeling better about themselves at the same time.
There are many more ways to approach your child to encourage positive behavior, keep your home from falling into chaos, and keep children safe, without resorting to yelling or criticism.
In my audio and workbook program, Parenting That Empowers: How To Ensure Your Child Becomes A Happy, Confident, Capable Adult, you’ll learn several more effective ways to promote harmony and cooperation in your household, including:
…all without resorting to unexamined tactics and knee-jerk responses that leave you feeling bad later. You’ll learn these tools in Module 2 of my program.
Plus, you’ll also learn:
You can start listening right now, risk-free:Parenting Without Criticism
I hope you’ll take this information to heart, because raising children to be more loving toward themselves and others is something our world needs a lot more of right now.
P.S. When a child is criticized a lot, they may grow up believing that nothing they do is ever good enough. That could lead to all sorts of problems later in life, especially in career, relationship, or their self-esteem.
That’s why the parenting skills and tools I share in my program, Parenting That Empowers are so critical to your child’s development. Find out what you can do today to increase the chances your child will become a confident, capable adult:Start Listening